The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers announces the retirement of International President Edwin D. Hill, effective June 1.

In a brief email to his International Office staff, Hill said, “I came to this decision after much thought and reflection, concluding it was the right time for the next generation of IBEW leadership to come to the fore.”

President Hill addresses attendees at the 38th IBEW International Convention in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2011.

Upon Hill’s recommendation, the leader of the 725.000-member Brotherhood will be replaced by Lonnie R. Stephenson, vice president of IBEW’s Sixth District, covering Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and Minnesota.

From his roots as a second-generation journeyman electrician and member of Beaver, Pa., IBEW Local 712, Hill rose to regional prominence as the local’s business manager and vice president of IBEW’s Third District covering New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.

Appointed international secretary in 1997, Hill assumed the newly created position of secretary-treasurer one year later and assumed the office of international president in 2001.

In a message to members upon his appointment as international president, Hill said, “Some leaders in Washington revel in hobnobbing with the powerful. I recognize the importance of a strong presence in the halls of power, but I know that any power we wield comes from our strength in numbers and our solidarity as working people.”

Hill’s tenure as international president during times of economic crisis for the North American construction industry and attacks on organized labor has been marked by landmark initiatives that flow from that understanding of power.

The IBEW is growing due to innovative organizing and membership development initiatives and a commitment to excellence in training and on the job, both championed by Hill. Under his leadership, the IBEW has harnessed an array of technological tools to better prepare IBEW organizers, servicing staff and local unions to confront dynamic changes in the vast jurisdictions covered by the IBEW—electrical construction, utilities, railroads, telecommunications, broadcasting, manufacturing and government.

One source of President Hill’s success is his belief that the brotherhood best served its members when it best served its customers.

Sixth District Vice President
Lonnie Stephenson will become
international president on June 1.

“Anti-union propaganda had created a perception that hiring union workers was bad for business, but we knew better,” Hill says. “We just had to remind our customers, and truth be told, some of our members, that high standards of craftsmanship and productivity are hallmarks of the IBEW and the foundation of a profitable business.”

One of the highest profile campaigns to get that message out was the extension of the Code of Excellence program from a few locals in the Eighth District into the basic language in every contract signed with National Electrical Contractors Association partners. The program proved so successful with customers, signatory contractors and local unions that it was expanded to other classifications including manufacturing, utilities and broadcasting.

Another signature initiative of Hill’s tenure is the implementation of a market recovery program that established alternative job classifications in electrical construction. The effort has helped boost man-hours and market share that were lost by the union’s signatory contractors during the recent recession, while getting idled journeymen back on the job.

Market recovery efforts have been recently bolstered by an effort focused on business development that is already setting a standard for the building trades. The establishment of a business development department is the product of resolutions passed at the 2011 IBEW convention in Vancouver, introduced by the union’s officers.

While membership development focuses on organizing workers and contractors, Hill’s enhanced focus on business development seeks out the owners of large construction projects well before any contracts are written. These relationship-building efforts are supplemented by a well-received national advertising campaign, more organizers and a new training program to get the rank-and-file into the heart of organizing campaigns.

“I always think of Ed as a pioneer, always looking for new ways to help IBEW members in this changing economic environment. He wakes up every day thinking about workers but he is also an ambassador to the entire labor movement,” says AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, who formerly served as one of Hill’s senior executive assistants.

“He believes strongly in innovation and trying new, cutting edge ideas,” says Shuler. “He often said, ‘Making mistakes is good. It’s better to try something and fail, than not try at all—because if you’re not failing once in a while, it means you’re not doing anything new.’”

 Sam Chilia, IBEW’s Secretary-Treasurer, will continue to serve in that capacity.